Gut Microbial Diversity and Ecological Specialization in Four Sympatric Lemur Species Under Lean Conditions

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The gut microbiome is gaining recognition for its role in primate nutrition, but we stand to benefit from microbiome comparisons across diverse hosts and environmental conditions. We compared gut microbiome structure in four lemur species from four phylogenetic lineages, including 9 individual mouse lemurs (Microcebus danfossi), 6 brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus), 20 sifakas (Propithecus coquereli), and a single sportive lemur (Lepilemur grewcockorum). In northwestern Madagascar, these species are sympatric, but use different feeding strategies to cope with environmental challenges, including relying on tree gums and insects (mouse lemurs), and some vs. significant leaf matter (brown lemurs vs. sifakas and sportive lemurs). From one fecal sample collected per lemur in the dry season in the Anjajavy Forest, we determined gut microbiome diversity, variability, and membership via 16S rRNA sequencing. The lemurs harbored strongly species-specific gut microbiomes. Brown lemurs showed more diverse and generalized consortia; mouse lemurs, sifakas, and the sportive lemur had less diverse consortia with more distinct memberships. Consistent with their fallback foods, mouse lemur microbiomes included taxa putatively associated with gum and insect digestion, whereas those of sifakas and the sportive lemur showed stronger and distinct signatures of leaf fiber and secondary compound metabolism. These results point to feeding strategy, intertwined with host phylogeny, as a driver of gut microbiome composition, but highlight real-time dietary specificity as a contributing driver of microbiome diversity. While illuminating how gut microbiomes facilitate host nutrition on challenging foods, these results help explain how ecologically diverse primates living in sympatry may differentially cope with seasonal or stochastic lean times.





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Greene, LK, E Rambeloson, HA Rasoanaivo, ED Foss, AD Yoder, CM Drea and MB Blanco (2021). Gut Microbial Diversity and Ecological Specialization in Four Sympatric Lemur Species Under Lean Conditions. International Journal of Primatology, 42(6). pp. 961–979. 10.1007/s10764-021-00257-9 Retrieved from

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Lydia Greene

Dir, Acad Engagement for Acad Discipline

I am currently the Director of Academic Engagement for Natural & Quantitative Sciences in Duke's Academic Advising Center. My work involves mentoring and advising undergraduates pursuing opportunities and careers in the STEM fields, and working with campus partners to develop more inclusive STEM programming.

My own research is on the ecology of lemurs in Madagascar, with a central focus on mechanisms of local adaptation in sifakas. Prior to my role as NQS DAE, I was a postdoctoral associate at the Duke Lemur Center and graduate student in Duke's Ecology Program. My dissertation research was on the role of the gut microbiome in facilitating folivory as an ecological strategy in lemurs. 

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